I hate medication. I will suffer for hours with a headache before I’ll take anything for it. This is because I have this irrational fear that OTC (over the counter) drugs are gateway drugs and that once you start with those then it is only a matter of time before your doctor has you addicted to the legal stuff.
Ignoring that particular peculiarity, I feel that the human body was designed to heal itself. All we need to do is give it the right tools in order to do the job. Therefore I have compiled a list of things that I have done and others recommend doing to help alleviate depression.
(Note: I’m not a doctor or even associated with the medical profession. Depending on your health status, some of these may require approval by your doctor in order to do them. Use your head and consult one if necessary.)
1. Get the right amount of sleep
Sleep deprivation and oversleeping in and of themselves do not cause depression. However, they can contribute greatly to the overall craptastic feeling of being worn to the bone. The average adult needs about 8 hours of sleep a day. Note that this is only an average. Some people do great with only six hours and others, like me, need about nine hours. The point here is to make sure you are getting what you need and only what you need. If you feel yourself nodding off during the day engage in tip #2.
When you exercise, your body starts bitching about it. Things start hurting. You may even be in a bad mood because you’re missing Oprah. After awhile, though, you start to feel good. Really, really good. That’s because your body is drugging you into submission with endorphins.
Endorphins are hormones that are produced in the brain and help reduce the sensation of pain and lift the mood. The good thing about endorphins is that effect lasts long after you’re done exercising. Even a short ten to fifteen minute walk around the block has been shown to alleviate feelings of depression and anxiety and this is something that I can personally attest to.
3. Regulate your blood sugar levels
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) not only affects your physical state of being but your emotional one as well. Both cause impairment in brain functions and feelings of anxiousness, irritability, hopelessness, helplessness and confusion can result which will only aggravate an already depressed condition.
Be sure to eat at regular intervals. Don’t skip meals! And having popcorn for breakfast doesn’t count as a meal. I know that this is easier said than done but try to eat as healthfully as you possibly can. Avoid foods full of simple carbs and sugars that will only spike blood sugar levels and try to get as much fiber as you possibly can. Fiber slows the absorption of sugars into the blood stream and help to keep blood sugar levels stable.
4. Avoid sugar, caffeine and other stimulants
This tie in with keeping your blood sugar levels stable. As a sugar and caffeine-aholic, I never thought I would say this but simple sugars, caffeine and other stimulants do your body a disservice. Sure you get a rush of energy when you first partake of the nectar of the gods but after awhile the effect wears off and your blood sugar level plummets. This can aggravate a depressed mood and coupled with other bad habits could even be a trigger for a depressive episode.
A note of warning: If you are a sugar and caffeine addict and you decide to quit, be assured that you WILL go through withdrawal symptoms. But if you can make it though without dying or committing homicide, I guarantee you will feel so much better.
5. Art and Music Therapy
I have more experience with music therapy than I do with art therapy so I can’t say a whole lot about art therapy from a personal perspective. However, from reading about it, it seems to be a form of journaling. The creation of art not only allows you to express what you are feeling inside in a tangible way but also distracts you and lets you focus on something other than your depression.
You can also create music in the spirit of art therapy where your music book is a journal of your inner most thoughts and feelings. I’ve also heard that singing helps as well however I’m more of a listener. Sometimes I start off listening to something that expresses my unhappy mood but then I try to up the tempo gradually until I’m listening to music that inspires me and makes me feel good. Other times, I just go straight for the good stuff and listen to upbeat music until my mood matches the tunes.
6. Take B Vitamins
For maximum health, you should be taking vitamins especially if your diet resembles anything like mine or most of the American population. More specifically, though, you should make sure you are getting enough of the B-vitamins.
Deficiencies in this vitamin intake can cause several mental and emotional issues to crop up. Not getting enough B3 can cause aggression, insomnia and mental confusion while forgoing B6 can cause depression and B12 deficiency can cause a decline in cognitive abilities and memory loss.
The best way to get your daily dose of B vitamins is through the food you eat (another reason to have a healthy diet). Whole-grain cereals, rice, nuts, milk, eggs, meats, fish, fruits, leafy green vegetables and liver (ew!) are great sources of vitamin B. There are also some great vitamins on the market that you can get that will help also.
7. Get Some Sun
Some depressions, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder, are triggered by the lack of sunlight. From what I understand, mood is regulated by a balance of melatonin (a hormone associated with sleep) and serotonin (a hormone associated with being awake as well as mood). As the sun goes down, our melatonin levels increase because, naturally, it is time to go to bed. When the sun comes up our serotonin levels increase because it’s time to get up and go!
Some anti-depressant drugs work by increasing your serotonin levels and therefore your mood. But why damage your body with potentially addictive drugs? Just go outside and soak up the natural rays. If you are concerned about skin cancer or otherwise are not able to get outside, there are specially designed lights that you can use to simulate the effects of the sun.
8. Distract Yourself
Sometimes while in the midst of a depression I find that my thoughts are circling around a set of negative beliefs and perceptions like a broken record stuck on a country song. This is usually triggered by something bad happening in my life that gets me lamenting about the fact that I’m not perfect and then it’s just downhill from there.
In these cases I’ve found that distracting myself by doing something that requires active participation helps a lot. Painting, writing music, writing a story, walking, shopping, scrap booking, crafting, coding, gardening, anything that forces your mind to focus on something other than the endless litany of negative thoughts circling you like vultures should do.
When I am depressed, it feels like I’m carrying about this heavy burden like some sort of pack animal. And the stress of everyday life only seems to pack more and more into it. So taking the advice of friends, I now have what I like to refer to as my scream journal. When I feel the need, I just open the book and let it all out. For me this is similar to having a meltdown except in private and without the drama of saying things out loud that are better kept to myself. Afterwards I usually feel a little bit lighter and less crazed.
10. Talk to a Trusted Confidante
If you have the right people in your life, talking to others about how you feel can be extremely therapeutic. Not only are you getting it off your chest but often times, your confidante will provide you with feedback that puts things into perspective.
As I noted before, sometimes we get stuck in our own thoughts and depression has this way of blowing things to mythic proportions. This is when we really need someone in our lives who will de-dramatize us. This person could be a friend, family member, church leader, anyone who you trust with your secrets and whose advice you can count on to help you.
11. Organize Your Space
I find that when my physical space is cluttered so is my mind. That’s because all those piles of junk represent things that need to be attended to. I find it much harder to concentrate and get things done because if I look to my left or my right, I get distracted by another pile screaming to be taken care of.
I find that if I clean and organize the space I’m in that I feel tons better. Doing so not only distracts me from my depressed thoughts but it also restores to me a sense of control over myself and my world. And sometimes that gives me the boost I need to make me feel better about life.
12. Drink More Water
Many people today are actually suffering from low grade dehydration because they replace the water they should be drinking with caffeinated sodas, sugary drinks and coffee. Now I don’t have any scientific evidence to support this but when I drink more water, I generally feel better. This may be because when I drink water, I don’t drink as much of the other stuff which, as I pointed out before, throws blood sugar levels out of balance and adversely affect mood.
Try to get the minimum 8 cups of water per day. Just plain, clear, cool water. If you don’t like water, you can even just suck on ice cubes all day which is infinitely more interesting then downing a bunch of boring cups of water. If anything, drinking more water will help improve your overall health which will go a long way towards alleviating depression.
Not any one thing, or lack thereof, on this list will cause depression. It is usually a combination of elements that cause or aggravate depression. So it stands to reason that you may need to change more than one habit in order to reap the benefits of feeling normal. Another benefit is that over time, practicing these good habits may also prevent relapses into a depressed condition.
So this is my list. What has helped you alleviate your depression?